Friday 19 January 2018

McCall admits Saracens face huge task in St Etienne

Saracens boss Mark McCall (pictured) has voiced his admiration for French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne ahead of today's European Champions Cup semi-final showdown in St Etienne.

Clermont stand between Saracens and the tournament's sole remaining English challengers reaching a second successive European final.

Saracens humbled Clermont 46-6 at the same knockout stage last season, scoring six tries during a Twickenham romp - but their opponents' quarter-final demolition of reigning Aviva Premiership champions Northampton just two weeks ago suggests McCall's men are up against it.

"It's going to be a tough game for us, we understand that," rugby director McCall said.

"But we are going to try to make life very difficult for them and put them under some pressure.

"As a club, we admire them (Clermont) as much as anybody because they keep coming back for more.

"We always say we just want to give ourselves a chance of winning every competition, and they do that year in, year out. They respond to big setbacks remarkably well.

"They reinvent themselves, too. There is a different dynamic to their team this year to Vern Cotter's team - which was an outstanding team as well.

England international Owen Farrell, as expected, returns to Saracens' matchday 23 for the first time since he suffered a knee injury three months ago.

Farrell will be on the bench, but injury sidelines skipper Alastair Hargreaves, so Jim Hamilton replaces him at lock and England centre Brad Barritt takes over captaincy duties. There is also a start in the back-row for exciting prospect Maro Itoje, while flanker Jacques Burger is back from suspension.

clermont auvergne v saracens, today (ko 2.30) Live bt Sport 1

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